Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C Virus (HCV) and a leading cause of liver cancer and transplants. An estimated 2.7-3.9 million people in the United States are infected with the virus. Nicknamed “a silent disease,” the vast majority—at least 50%— of HCV cases go undiagnosed and many result in fatalities that could have been prevented. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if undiagnosed, the condition can escalate from a treatable to a chronic infection in 70-85% of those infected.
One subset of the population is particularly at risk; Baby Boomers. This generation—born between 1945 and 1965—is 5 times more likely to have hepatitis C than other adults. To put it in perspective, of all people diagnosed with the disease, approximately 3 in 4 are boomers. The reason for their higher susceptibility is not entirely known. One theory suggests baby boomers had greater exposure to contaminated blood and blood products before widespread screenings were the norm in the medical industry.
Health officials estimate that one-time testing of all Baby Boomers could prevent more than 120,000 hepatitis C virus-related deaths. Timely diagnosis, therefore, is critical to beginning treatment early. Once diagnosed, patients have various options for treatment based on the stage of the disease as well as therapies that can help limit further disease.
Guidelines recommend screening for HCV for anyone who:
- Was born between 1945 and 1965
- Was or is currently an injection drug user
- Received transfusions or organ transplants prior to July 1992
- Has additional risk factors or medical conditions
In the end, there is hope and reason to believe that taking proactive action may have long-term positive consequences on the future of the disease, especially because, if it is caught in time, Hep C is preventable. Dr Bruce Bacon, Professor of Internal Medicine, Saint Louis University of School and Medicine, is optimistic about the future of hepatitis C virus management saying, “If we find the patients and treat them appropriately, we could essentially eradicate hepatitis C.”
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